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Why World AIDS Day matters to me

1 Dec

Today is World Aids Day.

I was a child in the 80s and I remember the “AIDS kills” campaigns. I vividly remember a t-shirt I saw while on my first foreign holiday (to Spain, aged 10). A German teen at the same hotel wore a t-shirt that had a comedy willy on it and the willy wearing what I now know was a condom (but which mystified me at the time!), with a speech bubble saying “AIDS kills. Don’t be silly, put a condom on your willy”. I saw that t-shirt so many times during the two week holiday that I stopped being shocked by it! And actually remember it really fondly, as fondly as I remember the flamenco doll I bought in El Cortes Ingles in Barcelona. As a teenager in the 90s I went on annual awareness-raising walks on World Aids Day. Getting HIV or AIDS was a death sentence and there was a huge sense of urgency and anger about how we could fight this terrible disease.

But it seems to me now that we no longer worry so much about HIV/AIDS.  The advances in medicine mean that with the right treatment, HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence. Which is an excellent thing, and I’m grateful for it whenever I spend time with friends who’ve been living with HIV for years.

What bothers me is that the millions in the developing world living (and dying) with HIV/AIDS don’t seem to spur us on with the same sense of urgency and anger we had when it was killing us in the 80s and 90s. Men, women and children are dying everyday, as well as the orphans and families left to pick up the pieces. The advances in medicine aren’t available to all, despite the ongoing efforts to make cheaper treatment available (see this New Internationalist article about it)

As a pregnant woman, it makes me sad and angry that there are 1.4million pregnant women around the world living with HIV. And most live in places where they won’t get ARVs and the help and support they need to minimise the risk to their unborn children and to ensure they live as long and as healthily as possible. Minimising mother-to-child transmission of HIV requires things like ARV medication, a safe delivery and support for a long time after birth. Veteran HIV/AIDS campaigner (and incredible singer) Annie Lennox has a great post about it on Mumsnet today. The organisation she’s supporting, mothers2mothers, works at a grass roots level to help and support pregnant women and new mothers with HIV. I’m not a baby shower type of person, but if I was then asking friends and family to donate to this charity would be top of my list! Instead, I’ve donated as an early Christmas present to my unborn child. I hope that when my children are my age HIV/AIDS is consigned to the dustbin of history.